WF’s great North Atlantic adventure

Every family has them, heirlooms handed down from previous generations. Each has a tale and continuing with the artefacts from the attic series, here are some of mine and the stories they carry.

Here two objects tell the story of a journey.

One is a lined school exercise book, the other the print out of a ship’s passenger manifest.
The exercise book belonged to my great grandfather William Frank Christie, who sometime probably in the 1960s began jotting down his memoirs.

The SS Bavarian, the ship that carried my great grandfather to the new world 107 years ago

He wrote about growing up in a mill with a water wheel, in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. The stream flowed underneath his bedroom, he would fish through a trap door in the floor.

Scribbled in the notebook is how his father, a trader, would take seven days to travel from Pietermaritzburg to Durban by ox wagon.

I remember meeting him when I was about five, he had a shock of white hair, and a beak of a nose. His son, my great uncle, told me the hooked nose was curtesy of a Chinese labourer who socked him one as he tried to break up a fight on a Joburg mine compound.

In his notebook lies the tale of his great American adventure. WF had headed out to England to serve an apprenticeship and in 1905 after finishing up decided he would head to the United States via Canada.
“America had a pull for me. I was in Gt Britain when the last of our relatives there died. I decided to go over to the States going first to Canada”, he wrote.

The ship he took was the Bavarian, a cutting edge steamer for its time. This boat was the first to be fitted with refrigeration and could cut through the choppy northern Atlantic at 16 knots.
WF boarded the Bavarian on June 5, 1905 in Liverpool. Joining him were Scots immigrants heading to the promised land of Canada.
“A Scottish piper played a lament at the dockside while tearful goodbyes were made. A lump formed in my throat”, he remembered.
My great grandfather travelled alone to Quebec, the passenger list had him marked down as a labourer.
“The passage was a very eventful one when nearing Canada one noticed the temperature of the water being taken regularly and a fog haze was in the air-premonition of icebergs”, WF wrote.
The Titanic tragedy would only happen in seven years time, but even then ship captains took the threat of icebergs seriously.

The ship's passenger manifest, that lists my great grandfather.

“The ominous silence of ship engines during the night, icebergs in the vicinity. The fog horn would blow every so often. The proximity of a big berg would give erberations [verberations] or echo and also a warning to shipping.
In the morning what a gorgeous sight to see icebergs of all sizes in the distances.
Of all fantastic shapes and glittering in the bright sunshine. One I recall was like a mighty cathedral with a pinnacle”.

Then the passengers took part in something I am sure had more to do with myth than anything else. They lined the decks and scoured these floating islands for polar bears.
“The bergs were coming from the artic regions from glaciers. One looked for polar bears, sometimes said to be marooned on these floating south.”

My great grandfather landed in Quebec and ahead of him was a four-year adventure. During his stay he would develop a passion for teaching singing and he would be turned off hotdogs for life, after finding a finger in the sausage.

But that is for another blog entry.

About Shaun Smillie

Journalist, with a love of bones, fossils and other things dug up. Fisherman and occasional beer maker.
This entry was posted in artefacts from the attic, christie family and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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